Moville, Rathmullan and Kerrykeel among towns where raw sewage is still being released, warns EPA

Lough Foyle
Lough Foyle

Moville is one of 21 large urban areas in the 26 Counties that failed to meet the European Union’s legally binding standards for the treatment of urban waste water in 2018.

The town is also among eight towns and villages in Donegal - including Rathmullan and Kerrykeel - and 36 in the country at large, where raw sewage is still released into our coastal waters and rivers.

These are among the findings of a report published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Wednesday which warned repeated delays in the elimination of raw sewage were unacceptable and posed a risk to our environment and public health.

The Urban Waste Water Treatment in 2018 report shows there have been some improvements in waste water treatment in the past year but raw sewage continues to be released into the sea, including in places like Rathmullan.

In fact, the EPA identifies the Lough Swilly town, alongside, Killala in Mayo, as two areas where Irish Water is required to "provide waste water disinfection to protect shellfish waters".

Works are planned at both Rathmullan and Moville in 2022 and at Kerrykeel in 2021.

Meanwhile, the EPA identified 57 areas in total where waste water discharges "represented the sole significant pressure on water bodies at risk of pollution."

Eight of these were in Donegal including the Skeoge at Bridgend; the Burnfoot at Burnfoot; the Donagh at Carndonagh-Malin and the Deele at Convoy.

The EPA noted improvements to the network that took place in 2018 including a major upgrade of the Convoy waste water treatment plant in County Donegal to prevent pollution in the River Deele.

But it also pointed to an incident at a nearby plant in St. Johnston.

"If a treatment plant is not operated properly it will not perform as well as it should. As an example, the new plant built in 2016 to stop discharges of raw sewage from St. Johnston, County Donegal did not always treat waste water to the necessary standards during 2018 because it was not operated correctly.

"Good maintenance of plant and equipment is key to minimising breakdowns and keeping treatment systems in the best condition. Maintenance should take a preventative approach, for example by servicing equipment regularly, rather than just reacting to problems when they occur.

"When breakdowns occur, they must be responded to and fixed as soon as possible to minimise the risk to the environment," the report states.

Dr Tom Ryan, Director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said; “Inadequately treated waste water can pollute our environment and is a risk to people’s health.

"We are seeing repeated delays in providing treatment for many areas and it is not acceptable that 13 towns and villages will still have no waste water treatment by the end of 2021. Irish Water must speed up its delivery of key infrastructure.”

Mr Andy Fanning, Programme Manager of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said: “The underlying problem in many cases is a lack of adequate treatment infrastructure.

"This is a legacy issue which must be solved by investment in new treatment systems. However, some towns that already have the necessary treatment in place did not perform as well as they should.

"We require Irish Water to continue to improve how it operates and maintains waste water treatment systems to get the best performance from them."

Irish Water’s said its investment in wastewater infrastructure will increase to almost €400 million in 2020 as the amount invested in upgrading wastewater infrastructure matches the investment in drinking water for the first time.

This reflects a steady increase in investment as more projects move from the design and planning stages through to construction, it said.

Responding to the EPA report the utility firm pointed out that since 2014, Irish Water has stopped approximately 44 per cent of untreated and inadequately treated wastewater that was being discharged to our rivers, lakes and the sea.

In 2018, Irish Water invested a total of €230 million in its wastewater infrastructure programme to improve Ireland’s wastewater infrastructure, the company said.

Irish Water, Head of Asset Management Sean Laffey said: “Irish Water’s investment plan prioritises public health and safety by targeting locations where there is no treatment for raw sewage or where the treatment is not in compliance with the EU Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive. Irish Water is fully committed to meeting the timescales associated with the European Court of Justice Urban Wastewater Treatment Case.

“In some cases, progress has been slower than we would like. This is due to re-scoping of plans or where we have planning or other statutory issues. It is imperative that we meet all of the necessary statutory and legal obligations when developing plans to support the safe return of wastewater to the environment.

"The size and scale of the challenge we have faced over the past five years has been considerable, but we are confident that with the expertise and capability of Irish Water and local authority engineers and other staff that we will efficiently deliver capital investments to address wastewater management requirements across the country."